It’s notoriously hard to study – to measure and analyze – oneself or members of one’s own species, because our mechanisms of perception and understanding are inescapably biased/distorted in ways that we cannot even see, and which may vary wildly from person to person, culture to culture, moment to moment.
This means that the human study of almost anything is liable to be flawed.
Humans don’t see things clearly.
The ways that we even define what we are studying can be deeply flawed. [insert examples re: definitions of psychological wellness and illness that are based on Western norms and values/ drapetomania / and the science of forestry and natural resources. Note the estimate re: percentage of scientific literature that is bunk]
This is not an essay about that.
[I ended those thoughts and that writing – done while walking a familiar circuit down McDowell, the Choctaw Greenway, a short stretch of broad sidewalk along a street named Choctaw, beside a stream called Town Branch and Nasty Branch (recently featured in an article explaining that Town Branch was called Nasty Branch by the Black families who lived in the neighborhoods surrounding the stream, for the pollution by way of parking lots and streets sloping southward, the edge-of-downtown industries of oil changes and dry cleaners, all the garbage of the small city in the mountains running in streams that converge with the bigger river between the hills and rising lands that are East and West. The article advocated for the stream being called Nasty Branch because that is what the people in neighborhood – not the first people, who called the big river Tah-kee-os-tee and not the second people with names like McDowell and (insert interesting names of mid-era residents), who probably didn’t think much of the stream at all other than considering that it might be a convenient place to throw household wastes or to let loose the effluents of the fledgling industries surrounding the bigger river – which, as I mentioned, was called Tah-kee-os-tee by the first people, the Cherokee people. There were, I believe, at some point large stockyards, organized by a Black man who has parts of his story printed onto a display down by the brewery that boasts a sign declaring ‘A Stream Renewed’ over a drainage channel bracketed by manufactured concrete composite blocks, planted with service berry and tall grasses.)
(I interrupted this writing to take a brief video of my black and white cat, whose name is Bandit. She was crouched and scratching, sharpening her claws on the rotting bench that sits over the yard-grave of my cat that died last summer, an event that I didn’t even write about much, because I have been stunned and silenced – at least outwardly – for a lot of days these past few seasons.)
(I interrupted my writing of this to notice I was cold and to look around. The thin shadows of thin branches – leafless maple and thin-leaved privet hedge grown all the way into the sinewy-smooth barked trees they are constantly striving to be – cover almost everything. There is no bright sunny place to be. At least not here. I am still interrupting my writing of whatever it was I was writing about by now thinking about going to the track and looking for a sunnier, warmer spot up there. I ran 7 miles in the mid-morning. There was a wind blowing hard from North to South and I kept my eyes closed on a lot of the stretches, opening one every few slow breathes, taking a scan of the lane rounding the bend before the branch of oak straggles out over the track because it’s hardly been used for a year because of the pandemic. It’s almost funny to me to mention so casually that schools have been closed because of a global pandemic that has killed well-over a half a million people in America alone. To almost forget that stunning reality. We just lived through – and are still living through – a historic event. A truly historic event that is still unfolding. Holy shit.)
What was saying, that I then interrupted, thinking about how sometime soon someone is going to unceremoniously cut back the branches of the young oak tree that is growing out over the Lane 8…
I just go around the branches. Step into Lane 7, then return to Lane 8…
I scroll up to see what I had been thinking about, and am aware that my posture is horrible right now. I am sitting on the steps in from of my house, and I am cold. I am hunched over, typing into my phone, wearing all black on the second day of spring, except for bright blue flip flops from last summer.
Ah, yes, the cat…
No. I was writing about psychology, and then I was writing about the river and the Branch.
I was walking yesterday along the stream that seems nameless, but that has several names, and is defined by me and understood by my family as ‘that little stream down by cat alley’. I walk along the stream on the Choctaw Greenway at least a few times a week. It is one of my circuits, one of the places that I go again and again, a path I travel repeatedly.
I used to take my kids down to the stream when they were little. It was one of those close-to-home adventure places that young mothers and fathers create for their very young children who don’t yet see that the world is big.
Lately a pair of ducks has been spotted in several locations within a quarter mile of where the mouth of the culvert emerges from beneath a field.
About six years ago, I was walking down the small hill that I lived on the north slope away from toward the even smaller hill that runs over the little stream down by cat alley. Ralph Street. If there were a street address for cat alley, it would be somewhere on Ralph Street, down by the Glen Rock Hotel that is now Section 8 apartments and the walkway with the bald cypress whose branches are all cut off on one side because they grew over the black walkway railing. The stream goes under a bridge there, and a sand, almost beach-like micro-delta is forming where sediment is left behind at the edge of the culvert. A couple of weeks ago a big piece of concrete painted a gloss red showed up on the sand. It looks a little like the shape of the continent called Africa.
I was walking down toward Ralph about 6 years ago, puzzling a little over how unenthused I’d been feeling – meaning that I had been depressed, because I experience depression and have since I was about 9. The word unenthused is a euphemism for terribly depressed, sometimes dangerously depressed.
On that unenthused walk, I saw a group of black and white kittens playing in the privet by the used-to-be-empty house at the bottom of the hill, and I felt something like happy for the first time in a while and realized that I wanted a kitten.
A few days later, I went out to the backporch and a little tiny black and white kitten run into the pile of wood that was stacked in the corner of the porch. We had to use a hav-a-hart trap to catch her, and caught a possum in the process. I named her Bandit. She is totally tame now, and is my cat.
Bandit showed up on the back porch right over a cat named Boober’s final resting place, under the porch beyond the reach of any implement, a dark form that the flashlight seemed to strain toward, but never quite reach.
Things I want to speak about.
There are many things I’d like to speak about, and they all run connected. I start speaking about one thing, and end up saying something about something else.
I am going to speak today about what this project is and why I am speaking at all.*
The idea for this project emerged from thinking about – but, not saying anything about – suicide, about how I want to make a chapbook about staying alive, and how I think about plans all the time, but never do them, but that it feels really important to me to try to say something about suicide, to speak about suicide.
*note: not this project, but some other project that I haven’t actually worked on. A project in which I speak – about Suicide among other things.
She woke up sleepy
rain was falling in the dark
floor cold on bare feet
In a dream, lights out
electrical surge, flicker
no green numbers flash
how blankets become bodies
when we are asleep
Water is always
Mud-slicked ground, pooling rivers
Always is a coast
Room an inky seep
pocket of blurred boundaries
Pupils dilate, no
Constrict, aperture shifting
seeking out the lines
Clouds silently swell
breathing up the fog between
Valleys and rivers
mute points of light radiate
reflect back to space
[to complete later…]
Emergence, warm water scents
Mountains shade new leaves
verdant, cooling sunburnt flesh
such a sweet relief
Piquant, sweet sap blood
taste of grass between the teeth
warmth of earth itself
Find chance balance
Rare moment, regular time
night falls slowly, wait
I don’t want to go yet, no
I’ve just now begun
Stand like DaVinci
Fingertips touch dawn and dusk
Word like a rustle
Whisper, shifting grains of sand
old bone, ash displaced
Are the shoots green there,
underneath soil still warming?
Pushing up to sun
break ground, mountain rise
as the husk is shed to die
growth quickens, bounding
earnest leaves, like arms open
welcoming the world
in the dark below
lacework and lattice of ice
softening to steam
Wake robins stirring
bracken spirals unclenching
What joy, great lifting
thrust of all to the warm light
breath of plants, damp musk
tremble between roots, pulsing
Sending out signals
Highways sunny day
windows down, first time you sweat
since late last summer
Change out the displays
Fill the shelves with pastel eggs
grass chemical green
Drag out of bed, still dark
Body says to sleep, clock trained
Cleaning up the yard
a breeze that smells like semen
Bradford pears in bloom
It’s the day after the new moon, an astrological occurrence that would seem to suggest beginnings, but during this cycle is ‘more about endings.’ At least that what an article briefly skimmed on the internet suggested. I like that the moon phases are never really beginning or ending, that completion could be measured in darkness or light, and that – furthermore – the moon doesn’t care and strives for nothing.
Today is so-called Pi day, and circles don’t end or begin either unless they are drawn and the thing that is begun and ended is not the shape, but the line that makes it.
Somehow, the vernal equinox is a week from now and the clocks moved forward today. I stayed in bed this morning, in and out of lucid dreams between the alarm clock tone.
I needed rest, and so I rested.
With the one year anniversary of the declaration of a global pandemic having recently passed, I have almost met my goal – or, rather, completed my experiment – to walk/run 10 miles a day for a year. It was not an actual experiment, as there was no way of controlling for all the tangled variables that constitute a life, and – furthermore – the results are not measurable beyond my slightly improved cardiovascular health and running endurance. Some days I have chest pain and am exhausted and wonder if it’s possible that I might have damaged my cardiovascular health or if – like my Lebanese grandfather who dropped dead of a massive heart attack 15 years before I was born – I have a secret weakness in my heart, or if perhaps the duress of severe mental health challenges and chronic states of stress have worn out my heart.
The pain is on the right side of my heart, a tight ache, not enough to make me wince, almost more of a sensation than a pain. The pain is in the part of my heart that sends oxygen depleted blood to my lungs.
When I run and notice the pain, I draw deep breaths toward the place where I feel it, and try to slow my pulse down, open my capillaries up.
I don’t know what to say about the past few months. I have faltered badly in writing practice – but, have maintained a 63 day streak on Duolingo, where I am re-learning Arabic and learning Norwegian.
I don’t want my writing to be reduced to lists of the things I have done and things that have happened.
It might be that way for a while as I find my way back to practice.
I consider the possibility that my writing mind has been colonized by my employer for the sake of grant proposals and securing hundreds of thousands of dollars in program funds that have little to do with poetry other than the wrecked lives the funds are intended to assist and the folly of the ways that money is spent to clean up the messes made by the poverty and trauma of capitalism.
The winter is almost over. I wonder sometimes if I am 1/2 dissociated, the way I lose time and slip through days. It is seemingly a part of the adult experience that time seems to move more quickly, that the passage of time itself accelerates as we age. This is not true, of course. Time can neither speed up nor slow down. Time doesn’t even exist beyond our temporal sense of existing.
I can still remember, from being young, how long a year can seem. Now, here a whole season has passed and I feel like I’ve barely found my footing in the new year, a quarter over already.
I have noticed that time slows when I am doing work with my hands, when I am engaged in raking or pruning. Sweeping or scrubbing. Sewing and baking. I think it is because it is possible to get a great deal done during small segments of time that it seems time slows. I know there have been episodes during which time, in my sense of experience, slowed to almost a stop – to the extent that I might comment or exclaim, “how is it possible that only a half hour has gone by?! I did way more than is possible within a half hour!”
Experience is such a layered and complex phenomenon – external actions reflexively dancing with the internal states of sense and reflection, analysis and memory.
She sleeps in her own room again, having left the bed she shared with a man at the end of the hall. The bed is small, a twin bed that was once used by her daughter. It is tucked perpendicular under a double-sized loft that nobody sleeps on, save for the cat.
The children would find the spots along the bank where the tide had eroded the sandy earth out from under the trees, making damp ledges that held pockets of cool air, roots washed clean and dangling from the walls. These eroded spaces were like tunnels, like burrows they could crawl through. The brightness and heat of the above-ground day seemed far away.
Maybe the universe is hurling itself toward destruction with every counterclockwise turn, the whirling spring wound tight
I have not written at all recently.
Let us define recent: I am referring to the better part of the past several weeks. Which isn’t really so long, but for a person who generally spends time writing fairly regularly, to have not written at all is fairly significant. For the past several years, my writing has been limited to the strained utterance and lament of the busy and distracted. I am conspicuously aware that there is a state of consciousness that my writing is born of, and that I have not been inhabiting it. A small slough in a wide beach with waves that stretch along the coast and all the blocks of business and home crowded close to the shore. If there was a place in me where poetry is born, it is in that slough left by tides, where water still flows from the push of the biggest waves in a runnel that is carved like a river, like a canyon.
I feel as though I have been trapped in other states of mind for a long time, the busy-ness brain with its lists of things to do and the press of deadlines, the social mind blathering and fretting about what to say and what will people think, my anxious preoccupation with the condition of the cells in my body, the meaning of the small streaks of blood on bright white paper.
She heard the footsteps in the dark outside, heavy and clomping. She recognized the sound of men’s boots, too big, and the definitive footsteps of the sore-footed. It was Dorothy
Parker. Dorothy was actually a __________, but the woman had mis-learned her name two years prior and couldn’t unlearn it. She didn’t know who Dorothy Parker is, but she called Dorothy __________ by that name. “You know me?” The older woman, Dorothy, would ask, head cocked in question, the woman with braids down to her hipbones, the woman who wore loose cotton dresses to her knees and still thought of herself as a girl despite being in her mid-40s. “Yes!” The younger woman would exclaim, pleased at acing this pop quiz of familiarity that was given almost every time they met for the first 7 seasons of running into one another near the bus stop at the bottom of Murray Hill, on the sidewalk down by the Greens market where the city’s last remaining payphone leaned incapacitated at the edge of the parking lot. “Hey, you got a couple dollars I’m tryna get a pizza down here at the Green’s. They four dollars for two pieces, and my friend – man – my friend, see she was supposed to lend me 10 dollars til I get my disability and so I rode the bus all the way over here from Tunnel Road, and now she ain’t even gon’ answer the door.” Dorothy dressed like a man, and walked like a man. Kept her hair cut close to her scalp like a man, but still called herself Dorothy. She was almost 60, and despite her feet being sore with bone spurs, she walked quick and with a gait of driven purpose. She didn’t amble or stumble or drag. She walked like she was going somewhere, getting to the bus stop, going uptown, trying to go by and see a friend of hers, trying to get her 10 dollars to get something to eat. Dorothy was always busy.
Sometimes, Faith would walk down the big hill on S French Broad, cut over by cat alley to avoid having to run into Dorothy, cause she knew that she’d get hustled before she even knew what happened, she’d be running – literally running – down to the Greens and getting a box of pizza from the little glass display crammed on the counter by the shiny goldtone pot leaf pendant jewelry and the plexiglass display of lottery tickets. She’d be buying an extra soda and a pack of cigarettes and paying 2.00 to get a 10 out of the rinky-dink atm to give to Dorothy to go over to the pharmacy, get her prescription. She didn’t like saying no to Dorothy, couldn’t ever quite justify not helping her, and so sometimes she avoid the stretch of sidewalk leading down to Depot.
It was the day that the hot water got replaced that Dorothy found out where she lived, walking by when Faith was saying goodbye to the two men who’d hooked up her new water heater. If she hadn’t offered the assistant a coffee drink while they waited to see if hot water would run up through the old cold pipes, or if she hadn’t walked the young man down to the street, she might have missed Dorothy walking by that day. As circumstances would have it, Dorothy was standing right there at the bottom of the concrete steps that connect to the sidewalk, walking by but smack dab right there in front of the house when Faith walked down saying goodbye to the young man. “Hey,” Dorothy exclaimed, “you live here?” Faith said bye to the water heater man and said hello to Dorothy, knowing that there wouldn’t be any avoiding Dorothy if she knew where she lived. “Well, yeah, I sure do. How are you doing this afternoon, Dorothy?”
The elder woman rocked her head back in a question, “You know me?” Faith smiled cause Dorothy never remembered knowing her, and said, “Yes. Your name is Dorothy Parker.”
“My name ain’t Dorothy Parker! My name is Dorothy _______. ________. I’m a ________.” She dropped her voice and Faith knew what was coming. “Listen,” Dorothy said, “I’m trying to get…”
The forecast was for rain and snow and ice accumulations of up to an inch – but there was only cold rain and the sky is blue now, the last winter storm of the season having passed with little incident. Over the past couple months, I’ve been delegated three grants to write – my headspace and energies and faculties used for the purpose and gain of an entity external to me. Not that getting funds for nonprofits is not an alright thing to do, but the nonprofit industrial complex and the systems of HUD and SAMHSA are pretty disgusting to me and I don’t really give a shit about impressing the city officials or the governing agencies charged with the care of the suffering.
I am not impressed.
Every day I want to quit and make art, allow myself immersion into the poetic consciousness and the time to work on painting a picture all damn day if I want to. I have an irrational fear of walking away from the structure of wage earning, the security of a paycheck – albeit relatively meager (less than 2,000 a month and no benefits, no paid time off even).
I could probably make enough by other means…
It comes down to faith, to believing that God will have my back, will help me if I am brave enough to step into being what I am and doing what I am led – by a sense of numinous vocation – to do.
There are sharks and whales
that live on the sky above
Cloud strewn wonder loft
Mind rape of television
Feeding wild foxes
walk barefoot in snow to know
how living stings, burns
I don’t need you to send me
pictures of the sky you see
I see my own sky
A Haiku Set is a construction of 18 individual haiku. One anchor haiku, placed at the top of the page, and 17 expanding haiku in vertical columns of 5, 7, and 5.
Each of the syllables of the anchor haiku are represented in the expanding haiku, inviting consideration of the power of singular sounds and compact words to conjure vast associations.
Snow slumps into slush
robins gather in maple
hinting at new leaves.
reflecting all in convex
white is illusion
I was doing my morning medicine run at the track and even though it was time for me to go home and get ready for workday, I decided to walk a circuit through downtown – just for the sake of keeping moving and to see what I might see. Sometimes, I stay out a little longer on these very cold mornings to remind me to remember I am blessed, and I make sure to see the people who are moving slowly out of the doorways as the sun comes up, and to give them a warm good morning. I refuse to allow myself the comfortable privilege of forgetting that there are people sleeping outside every night, regardless of how bitterly cold it might be, regardless of whether it’s raining or snowing.
This morning, right at the edge of downtown, I ran into my friend – a kid I knew from Brevard, who was homeless there and then became homeless here. My friend has mental health issues that make it hard to keep up with them, and isn’t very interested in jumping through a lot of hoops or filling out a bunch of forms. They have had a bunch of case managers and have been enrolled in a lot of different programs to try to get them housing, but they are still homeless.
I don’t think that it’s their mental health issues that give them a keen sense of right and wrong, and help them to maintain a gracious se la vie attitude toward the hard times they encounter. Usually, they are smiling and optimistic and seemingly without a care in the world. They have a benevolent and happy soul, it seems.
There is the push of wind, that seems to tell me go, keep going, and finds my back as I whisper and then speak “the way that God whispers to us” and I hope and then pray that my message is picked up by the branches that are black on indigo in early morning, waving and scraping small tones, small tines, a phonograph and a seismograph, play the measure and report, report, report – whisper in distant ears…
She resumed her sleeping alone in a narrow bed, the bed her daughter slept in as a child, once a loft and now with legs leveled to nestled perpendicular under another loft, the one that she once slept in and then became her daughter’s, a loft the cat now rests on and which she throws her pajamas in the early morning. She likes sleeping in this small space, a bunk above her just like when she was small and her bed was under her brothers and the wood was heavy and rough, unsanded, built by her father.
How can we not see
Rivers in our very own
branching, beating heart?
I’m trying to not know what time it is. To forget the hour, forget minute measures, these hard line technical segments that feel like the legs of centipedes and the countdowns to explosions, the ancient beauty of numbers turned to a business tool, the start of school. I get tired in the afternoon, in the hour before the bell rings. Even though I dropped out almost 30 years ago, I still feel thirteen when I walk alone in the late afternoon, wanting a cigarette and a set of railroad tracks to sit on, casting eyes to left and right waiting to be caught and loving the smell of creosote and the slant of gold light through pine trees after school telling the time of day by the shadows of their trunks and the glow of the needle. I am trying to forget the calendar and the schedules that are made for me, to feel my life unfolding, unfolding, unblocked, untimed.